Fighting in northern Burma between government forces and ethnic armed groups has intensified in recent days, even as a European Union delegation visits the region to learn more about the multiple conflicts that continue to displace thousands of civilians.
In Shan State, the latest clashes between the Burmese Army and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) in Hsipaw Township sent dozens of locals fleeing their villages on 18 May, amid reports that government troops were rounding up suspected supporters of the armed group.
“People from around here were heading out to their fields when they were stopped by Burmese soldiers. They let the women go, but detained six men on suspicion of being rebel supporters,” said Sai Hsi Kher, a resident of the village of Painneng.
“Four of the men have since been released, but two are still being held, including the headman of the village of Wanlon,” he said. “The men who were released said they saw the soldiers putting a gun in his mouth while he was being interrogated for having a walkie-talkie, which made them think he was a Shan informer.”
He said there were 78 displaced villagers taking shelter at the Mansu Buddhist Monastery in the town of Lashio, including infants and the elderly who were surviving on food handouts from the monastery.
Meanwhile, in Kachin State, heavy fighting that began last week between the Burmese forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) continues amid reports of exchanges of small-arms and artillery fire.
Tanaw Normai, a teacher in the village of Mongkwang, said a clash broke out north of the village of Laihka early on the morning of 19 May.
“Fighting broke out on the Thindangon hill to the north of Laihka at around 5am,” he said, adding that the Burmese government forces also used helicopters to attack the KIA positions in Thursday’s fighting.
Colonel Nor Bobo, the KIA’s information officer, confirmed the fighting took place and that the Burmese Army had carried out aerial attacks on rebel positions.
“The fighting broke out in an area north of Mongkwang but we haven’t received the full battle report yet,” he said. “The area is under control of the KIA’s 27th Battalion and the government forces used helicopters to bomb our positions there.”
He said there were no reported casualties from the airstrikes, which appeared to mainly target logging camps and transportation routes.
According to a brief statement on its Facebook page, the EU delegation met with political and military representatives, ethnic armed groups, community leaders, civil society groups and internally displaced persons during its visit to Shan State earlier this week.
“Fighting was ongoing just a few kilometres away from our meetings. We hope that the conflict parties in Shan State will soon lay down their arms and return to the negotiating table,” EU Ambassador Roland Kobia was quoted as saying in the statement.
“We came here to learn more about the reasons and root causes of the conflict. The ones who suffer most are always the civilians. In all our encounters with local leaders here we sent out a message that it is time for reconciliation, peace and ensuing socio-economic development.”
With reporting by Nang Mya Nadi and Naw Noreen